March 20, 2013 is the launch of a two-minute cartoon, “It Doesn’t Take a Miracle to Make a Moral Budget.”
The narrator begins: “In the time of Jesus, when there wasn’t enough to go around, it took a miracle to show that there could be enough for all, if we shared.” The cartoon depicts Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes. So, um, wait…this wasn’t a miracle – something out of nothing through God’s special intervention - but a human moment. I see.
The narrator continues: “Today, some say salvation is supposed to come from austerity,” and the cartoon shows characters – all “white” people – holding placards that read “austerity is love,” and “all praise almighty cuts” and “hallelujah cuts.” OK, well that’s overstating the case a little. Salvation, no. But a balanced budget …
“Deficit cuts are revered above all else.” Up rises the fanged idol of Moloch, spewing flames, and worshipped by the austerity-lovers.
“Social programs are the devil…” Here, a sweetly-smiling lady doctor, taking someone’s blood pressure, sprouts red horns and a tail.
“…And the new angel is the deficit hawk.” A golden-haired angel, flying in a blue sky, is attacked by a grey-suited businessman with brown wings and a wicked, toothy grin.
“But where do these cuts fall? Who bears the brunt?” the narrator asks. She explains, “It isn’t just about numbers; it’s about people’s lives…the poor, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the most vulnerable among us, suffer most in a land where cuts are king.” We see a panorama of the sick and elderly, of wide-eyed women and children, all queued up, going nowhere.
“Struggling families are sacrificed at the altar of deficit cutting,” the narrator warns and a dramatic guillotine, very Reign of Terror, labeled “Ryan’s Budget,” snaps at its potential victims.
“But cutting the deficit doesn’t have to mean increasing injustice or cutting our compassion.” Just look at this simple bar graph, with the quantity of “compassion” holding steady while the bar of “injustice” quickly rises. And then, compassion is ripped in half. Oh, dear!
“We are still a nation of unimaginable wealth…” the narrator reminds us, before a high flying flag.
“…And it’s time for everyone to pay their fair share.” This is a particularly interesting moment in the cartoon. We see a fat cat, smoking a cigar, sitting on top of a skyscraper-high pile of money. His caption reads “Additional $225,000 in tax breaks for millionaires.” The “little people” sit on a little pile, looking sad and deprived. Only a “$900 tax break for the middle class.” This is the “Tax Policy Center estimate of 2013 Ryan Budget.” So what’s a “fair share?” If we meet in the middle, that’s $114,450 tax break for everyone! Whoopie!
So, um, let’s see…no more taxes for the middle class! Yeah! That makes sense!
Back to the narrator: “Would Jesus give take breaks to the super-rich and pay for war at the expense of teaching poor children.” Up pop planes with price tags: a little one whose tag reads “$ Corporate Jet Tax Breaks $” and a larger, identified as an F-35, that reads “$396 Billion Program.” Lastly, two small children have a price tag, too, reading “$400 Million Head Start Cut.”
Maybe I’m missing something…how are the tax breaks paying for F-35s? Hm…
“Sure, it took a miracle back then,” the narrator concludes, “but, today, it doesn’t take a miracle: we just need politicians with the faith and courage to prioritize what’s right for our families and communities.” Here are happy, contemporary people surrounding the White House, delighted as one big, new, wonderful fish after another, pops into being around them, until they are blissfully buried under a largesse that is WAY more exciting than anything Jesus produced. The fish are labeled: “Medicaid,” “Food Stamps” “Medicare,” “Child Nutrition,” “Jobs,” “Pell Grants,” “Job Training,” “WIC,” “Head Start,”“Tax Fairness,” “Social Security.” The little fellow in front looks as though he may be the sole survivor of this government tsunami of fish. Whoa…this isn’t meant to be ironic. But…yikes!
The narrator is done and a final image reads: “On March 20, 2013, the faith community will speak up. Share this video to spread the word!” (To watch the thing for yourself: “It Doesn't Take a Miracle to Make a Moral Budget” – www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3VQtSKR76Q) If you’re the twitter-pated sort, it tells you that you can: “Follow the story at #Enough4All.”
So, who are those making up the “faith community” attacking “the false gospel of austerity” and holding 21 events in at least 13 states, plus a press conference on Capitol Hill, as Faith in Public Life, the collective voice of progressive religionists, expresses it?
Well, the Alinskyian community organizing PICO National Network is one. The Alinskyian community organizing Interfaith Worker Justice network is another. And there are the usual Faith in Public Life associates: NETWORK: a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Bread for the World, Catholics United, The Jesuit Conference, Ignatian Solidarity Network, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, Franciscan Action Network, Oxfam America, and Sojourners.[i]
There are so many things wrong with this facile and twisted view of economics – not to mention distortion of religious sensibilities (as if the poor aren’t impoverished further by the economic consequences of a run-away deficit. For more information, see Europe) – it’s tough to know where to begin. But let’s keep it simple: propaganda that depicts the rich, by default, as the enemy of everyone else is a Marxist paradigm. Un-American and un-Christian.
And it’s hard to make a “moral garment” out of that cloth.
Spero columnist Stephanie Block is the author of Change Agents: Alinskyian Organizing Among Religious Bodies, Vol 1.
[i] Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), News and Announcements: Faith in Public Life - Casey Schoeneberger, “Faith community to Congress: ‘It doesn’t take a miracle to make a moral budget’: Multi-state effort includes Capitol Hill press conference,” 3-19-13. www.pcusa.org/news/2013/3/19/faith-community-congress-it-doesnt-take-miracle-ma